Oil prices hit six-month high

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Sunday, 7th April 2024

The price of Brent crude oil surged to a six-month high on Friday, surpassing the $91 per barrel mark, propelled by escalating tensions in the Middle East. This sudden and significant uptick in oil prices has sent reverberations throughout global financial markets, reigniting fears of inflationary pressures and prompting deep concerns among central bankers, policymakers, and investors alike. The global benchmark, Brent crude, has not reached these levels since October, driven primarily by mounting geopolitical tensions in the volatile Middle Eastern region. Analysts have been closely monitoring developments, particularly following recent clashes between Hamas and Israel, which culminated in an Israeli airstrike on Tehran’s consulate in Damascus, Syria. The implications of surging oil prices extend far beyond geopolitical concerns, casting a shadow over various sectors of the global economy. This surge in energy costs adds additional strain on consumers already grappling with elevated living expenses.

Gaza war “betrayal of humanity

Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza has escalated into a “betrayal of humanity”, the United Nations’ humanitarian chief said Saturday. In a statement on the eve of the six-month anniversary of the war, Martin Griffiths, the outgoing under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, called for a “collective determination that there be a reckoning for this betrayal of humanity”. “Each day, this war claims more civilian victims,” said Griffiths, who will leave his post at the end of June due to health reasons. “Every second that it continues sows the seeds of a future so deeply obscured by this relentless conflict.” The war began on October 7 with an unprecedented attack by Hamas militants resulting in the death of 1,170 people in southern Israel, mostly civilians, Israeli figures show. Palestinian militants also took around 250 Israeli and foreign hostages, about 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including more than 30 the army says are dead. Israel’s unrelenting air, ground and sea assault has killed more than 32,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities, and led to a humanitarian catastrophe.

Israel approves reopening of 20 bakeries, waterline in northern Gaza

Times of Israel quotes a senior UN official listing what he calls “commitments” by Israel as part of a series of steps to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza, including opening the Erez Crossing to the northern Strip for the first time since October 7 and increasing the number of trucks entering through Jordan from the Allenby Bridge crossing. The UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Gaza and the West Bank, Jamie McGoldrick, also says “better functioning coordination cell will be established that links humanitarians directly with the IDF Southern Command.” In addition to expanding border crossing operating hours and capacity, the UN official says Israel has approved the activation of 20 bakeries and the reopening of the Nahal Oz waterline in northern Gaza. The statement says the number of trucks allowed to pass through from Jordan will be increased from 25 to at least 50 per day, while an additional 100 trucks per day will be scanned through the Kerem Shalom and Nitsana crossings in the south of the Strip.

Gaza’s largest hospital “an empty shell with human graves

The World Health Organisation said on Saturday that Gaza’s largest hospital had been reduced to ashes by Israel’s latest siege, leaving an “empty shell” with many bodies. WHO staff who gained access to the devastated facility described horrifying scenes of bodies only partially buried, with their limbs sticking out, and the stench of decomposing corpses. Israeli forces pulled out of Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on Monday after a two-week military operation, during which it said it had battled Palestinian “militants” inside what was once the Palestinian territory’s most important medical complex. A WHO-led mission finally accessed the hospital on Friday, after multiple failed attempts since March 25, the United Nations health agency said. It found massive destruction and heard reports that patients had been “held in abysmal conditions” during the siege and several had died. “WHO and partners managed to reach Al-Shifa, once the backbone of the health system in Gaza, which is now an empty shell with human graves after the latest siege,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote on X. In a statement, WHO said no patients remained in the hospital, where “numerous shallow graves” had been dug just outside the emergency department and the administrative and surgical buildings. “Many dead bodies were partially buried with their limbs visible,” it said.

Clashes between police and protesters in Tel Aviv

Israeli police used force to remove demonstrators in Tel Aviv who lit several fires near the Ministry of Defence, which were quickly put out by police with fire extinguishers, according to Haaretz. While the speakers of the march tried to regain control, the crowd shouted “Police, who exactly are you protecting?” and “Release the hostages immediately!”. According to the organisers, around 100,000 Israelis took to the streets in Tel Aviv in a protest against the government of Benjamin Netanyahu and for an agreement that will bring home the hostages still in Gaza six months after their abduction by Hamas. The media instead speak of “tens of thousands” but define it as “the largest since October 7”. There was also a car-ramming that injured five demonstrators – an incident that drew broad condemnation and concern over deepening societal tensions.

Iranian commander renews vow to avenge Syria strike

A top Iranian military commander Saturday renewed his ciuntry’s promise to retaliate after an airstrike earlier this week widely blamed on Israel destroyed Iran’s consulate in Syria, killing 12 people, including two elite Iranian generals. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, Iran’s joint chief of staff, told mourners gathered for the funeral of Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahdi that Iran will decide when and how to stage an “operation” to take revenge. Zahdi was the highest ranking commander slain in Monday’s attack. “The time, type, plan of the operation will be decided by us, in a way that makes Israel regret what it did,” he said. “This will definitely be done.” On Friday, the commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard, Gen. Hossein Salami, warned that “our brave men will punish the Zionist regime,” escalating threats against Israel. Tensions have flared against the backdrop of the six-month-old Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, and raised renewed fears of a broader regional conflict. The Islamic militant group Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for 17 years, is one of Iran’s proxies, along with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia and Yemen’s Houthi rebels. Both Hezbollah and the Houthis have carried out attacks along the fringes of the Gaza war, with Hezbollah engaging in daily cross-border exchanges with Israel and the Houthis frequently targeting Red Sea shipping. Bagheri made the comments in Isfahan, Zahedi’s hometown, about 440 kilometres south of the capital, Tehran.

Russia issues nuclear warning to Finland

A Russian ambassador had harsh words for Finland on Saturday, warning that the country would retaliate against the new NATO member if nuclear weapons were placed on Finnish soil, according to Newsweek. In a statement released Saturday through an interview with the state-run news agency, Tass, Pavel Kuznetsov, the Russian ambassador to Finland, said that the relationship between the two nations cannot go back to the way it used to be. Finland is one of the newest European countries to join the military alliance, being officially welcomed into the fold in April 2023. The Nordic nation was spurred to seek membership by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and its increased threats of aggression against other nations. Sweden is the latest country admitted to NATO for this reason, joining on March 7. Both nations announced that they were considering applying for membership in May of 2022, only a few months after the start of the Russia-Ukraine war. Russia has long viewed NATO as an antagonistic force, given the influence of founding members like the United States and the United Kingdom. NATO members are also obliged to provide military aid to other members in the event of an attack, meaning that Russia risks a much larger conflict should it take action against the likes of Finland.

Pellegrini wins Slovakia presidential race

Peter Pellegrini of the left-wing nationalist Hlas-SD party has won Slovakia’s presidential election, official results showed. Pellegrini’s Hlas-SD is part of the ruling coalition, while opposition candidate Ivan Korcok is an independent. Pellegrini received 53.85 per cent of the vote with ballots from over 98 per cent of polling stations counted. Korcok, who garnered 46.14 per cent  of votes, conceded defeat and congratulated the winner. The election result could determine whether the EU and NATO member shifts further towards Russia.

Trump campaign gets record $50.5 million haul at Florida fundraiser

Donald Trump’s campaign said it raised $50.5 million at a Saturday fundraiser in Florida – a staggering sum as the former president’s political operation scrambles to close its big financial gap with President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party. The haul announced by the campaign and top officials with the Republican National Committee far eclipses the $26 million that Biden reported collecting recently at a star-studded gathering in New York City that featured former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. The Trump total from the “Inaugural Leadership Dinner” at the Palm Beach, Florida, home of billionaire investor John Paulson sets a record for a single fundraising event.

Biden hauls in $90 million in March

President Joe Biden raised more than $90 million for his reelection campaign and the Democratic Party in March, a whopping haul in a month that saw him pivot to a general election posture – including a forceful State of the Union address and a high-dollar fundraiser with some of his predecessors. The campaign announced it has a war chest of $192 million cash in hand – describing it as “the highest total amassed by any Democratic candidate in history at this point in the cycle”. It also boasted its “strongest grassroots fundraising month since launch. Donald Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee, meanwhile, ended March with a combined $65.6 million fundraising haul and $93.1 million cash in hand – a significant gap from the Biden war chest.

Greta Thunberg arrested at climate protest in The Hague

Climate activist Greta Thunberg was arrested at a climate protest in The Hague, on Saturday. Thunberg was one of the dozens of people who police detained when in the process of removing protestors who were obstructing part of a road in The Hague, The Associated Press reported. She was spotted flashing a sign for victory when in a bus that police employed to transport protestors away from the protest against subsidies and tax breaks for companies in connection with fossil fuel industries. Before the protest, the Extinction Rebellion group said that activists would block a highway going into The Hague. However, a large police presence initially stopped them from going on the road. Eventually, a smaller group of people sat down on a different road, and police detained them after they didn’t listen to orders to leave. “We are unstoppable, another world is possible,” demonstrators chanted. Earlier this year, a London court acquitted the young Swedish climate activist of not following an order by police to exit a protest last year that blocked the entrance of an important oil and gas industry conference.

Latin America rallies around Mexico after embassy raid in Ecuador

Latin American governments, including regional heavyweight Brazil, have rallied around Mexico after its embassy in Ecuador was raided to arrest a controversial politician who had been granted asylum by Mexican authorities. The late Friday night seizure of Jorge Glas, Ecuador’s former vice president who was detained on graft charges, triggered a suspension of relations with Quito by Mexico City, with the government of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador blasting the unusual diplomatic incursion and arrest as an “authoritarian” act as well as a breach of international law and Mexico’s sovereignty. The government of Ecuador’s President Daniel Noboa had argued asylum protections were illegal because of the corruption charges Glas is facing. Still, under international law, embassies are considered the sovereign territory of the country they represent. On Saturday, governments across the political spectrum in Latin America – including Brazil and Colombia on the left, and Argentina and Uruguay on the right – sharply criticised the arrest of Glas, who had sought refuge in the embassy since December. He could be seen on video circulating on social media being taken by police convoy to the airport in the capital Quito, flanked by heavily armed soldiers. He then boarded a plane en route to a jail in Guayaquil, the Andean nation’s largest city. Brazil’s government condemned Ecuador’s move as a “clear violation” of international norms prohibiting such a raid on a foreign embassy. Nicaragua also said it would break all diplomatic relations with Ecuador following the raid.

Orbán backs Bosnian EU accession

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has promised to support the accession of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the EU “as soon as possible” when his country takes over the European Council presidency in July. Orbán made this on his X during his visit to Sarajevo, stating that if the EU is serious about giving “new impetus” to the European economy and safeguarding against illegal migration, it will be essential to involve the Western Balkans. Last month, the EU members made a political decision to start accession talks with Sarajevo. According to a recent survey, 37 per cent of Europeans support the country’s admission, making it the second most favoured country for inclusion after Ukraine.

Tens of thousands rally in support of Orbán rival

A contender to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets of downtown Budapest on Saturday. Peter Magyar, who until recently had close links to the government, launched a political movement in February that seeks to dethrone the populist leader after 14 years in power. Magyar, a lawyer who used to be married to Orban’s former justice minister, recently alleged entrenched corruption and cronyism among Hungary’s leaders. Protesters marched to the parliament building, some of them shouting: “We are not scared!” and “Orban resign!” Many wore the red-white-green national colors or waved the Hungarian flag. Magyar addressed the crowd, describing how his new political movement would bring together those frustrated by Orbán’s rule and the fragmented, ineffectual political opposition. “Step by step, brick by brick, we are taking back our homeland and building a new country, a sovereign, modern, European Hungary,” Magyar told supporters. “Our elected leaders have incited the Hungarian people against each other for the past 20 years. Whether the fate of our country went well or we were close to bankruptcy, we were pitted against each other instead of allowing us to band together,” Magyar added. “We will put an end to this now.”

WHO: ‘Health is a right for all’

As the world marks April 7 as World Health Day, WHO has chosen the slogan, “My health, my right”, recalling the importance of “defending the right of everyone, everywhere, to have access to quality health services, education and information, as well as safe drinking water, clean air, good nutrition, decent working and environmental conditions and freedom from discrimination”. WHO highlights that 4.5 billion persons around the world, have their right to health increasingly threatened by illnesses and disasters, disability and conflicts that devastate human lives, causing death, pain and psychological distress. The use of fossil fuels is fuelling the climate crisis and at the same time taking away the right to breathe clean air, with indoor and outdoor air pollution claiming a life every 5 seconds.”

Photo REUTERS/Angus Mordant

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